Over the last few years, insufficient sleep in the form of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation has become a growing concern in the U.S.
It can be caused by a number of different issues including abnormalities in the physiological system, brain and nervous system, cardiovascular system, metabolic functions, and immune system. Contributing factors can also include:
- Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
- Hypertension and elevated cardiovascular risks (myocardial infarction, stroke)
- Emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
- Obesity; metabolic syndrome and diabetes
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include caregivers or people who work long hours or more than one job, night shift workers, physicians, first responders, teenagers who have early school schedules, people who travel for work, people who have medical conditions or take medications that interfere with sleep, and people who suffer from stress and anxiety.
According to a report published by the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity.
That’s staggering, especially when you consider that the cumulative long-term effects of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of health problems. They include an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke, and has been linked to cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. Lack of sleep can also negatively affect how well we think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.
To give you an idea of how pervasive the problem is, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008 found that among 74,571 adult respondents in 12 states, 35.3% reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period, 48.0% reported snoring, 37.9% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the preceding month, and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month.
Adding on to those points, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the CDC, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of ≤ 6 hours of sleep per day in 2005-2007 and in 2009, only 31% of high school students reported getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night.
Meanwhile, the National Department of Transportation estimates drowsy driving to be responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the U.S.
CBD may have a positive impact on your sleep
Cannabidiol or CBD is a compound found in the cannabis sativa plant that is non-psychoactive (compared to THC) and non-addictive and has been shown to have a wide range of effects that may be therapeutically useful.
Although research on cannabis and sleep is still in its infancy, studies to date that have investigated CBD’s effects have produced some interesting results.
In a recent review article published in 2017 in Current Psychiatry Reports, researchers from Palo Alto, California set out to summarize the state of research on cannabis and sleep up to 2014 and to review in detail the literature on cannabis and specific sleep disorders from 2014 to 2017.
Of particular interest is CBD’s effects on the sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as the circadian cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Circadian rhythms are variations in physiological functions that occur on a daily basis. Human sleep is tied to a primary biological circadian clock and a natural rhythm of about 24 hours.
Research has shown that CBD has differential effects on the sleep-wake cycle depending on the dose that’s administered. Low-dose CBD has a stimulating effect, while high-dose CBD has a sedating effect. In a study among individuals with insomnia, results suggested that administration of 160 mg/day of CBD increased total sleep time and decreased the frequency of arousals during the night, while other studies have shown that low-dose CBD has been associated with increased wakefulness.
In terms of CBD’s effects on sleep quality, one study found an increase in total percentage of sleep in rats after administration of mid-range and high- dose CBD. It also found that high-dose CBD increased REM sleep latency (the time span between the start of sleeping and the start of rapid eye movement or REM sleep) on the day of administration and mid- range dose CBD decreased REM sleep latency the day after administration.
Meanwhile, another study investigated CBD’s effects on anxiety-induced sleep disturbances which is a common issue for people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers found that CBD blocked anxiety-induced REM sleep suppression but had no effect on non-REM (NREM) sleep. This work is further supported by a recent case report in which administration of CBD oil reduced insomnia symptoms and PTSD-related sleep disturbances. Together, these findings suggest that CBD may impact sleep quality through its anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effects.
Another area where CBD looks particularly promising is in treating rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder or RBD.
You see, the body doesn’t normally move during REM sleep. However, RBD is a sleep disorder (more specifically a parasomnia) where you lose muscle rigidity and physically act out your dreams. This may include vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during vivid, REM sleep nightmares. These behaviors can be violent and could result in injury to either the person or their bed partner. RBD may be associated with other neurological conditions, such as Lewy body dementia (a common type of dementia that causes a progressive decline in mental abilities), Parkinson’s disease or multiple system atrophy.
One small study investigated the efficacy of CBD in reducing RBD in four adult patients with Parkinson’s. Researchers found that CBD was able to suppress behaviors associated with RBD and was tolerated well by the patients. Again, this was a very small study so more research is required but nevertheless, the early results were promising.
Finally, CBD may also have an impact on excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS. EDS is quite common and is characterized by the urge to fall asleep during the light hours of the day. Causes may include some medications, various medical conditions, psychiatric conditions, and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and OSA. Negative consequences can include behavioral, attention, memory, and immune impairment, which may have an impact on quality of life.
However, CBD has potential effects as a wake-promoting agent and a recent study on sleep and early morning behavior demonstrated CBD’s impact on wakefulness. In this study, CBD administered in a 1:1 ratio counteracted the sedative effect of THC.
More research required
Clearly, insufficient sleep in the form of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation is a problem that should be taken more seriously. Insufficient sleep can have a major impact on nearly all facets of life and negatively affect quality of life.
Unfortunately, even though clinical activities and scientific opportunities in the field are expanding, awareness among the general public and health care professionals remains low. This is part of the reason why the problem is so rampant and why the Institute of Medicine Committee is calling for more research and education to bring awareness to this growing issue.
Hopefully new breakthroughs (like CBD) are in store in personalized drug therapies in the future.
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